With Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) having laid out its demands last week, one should be prepared for an increasing number of people to ask the question, “what is wrong with what TTP demands?” The fact that TTP now sounds reasonable to an increasingly large portion of the Muslim population is exclusively the fault of those who advocated negotiations.
However, blaming the government and PTI is not likely to achieve anything. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the citizenry to engage in debate and inform all those around us why everything is wrong with what TTP demands.
The reason you should not allow anyone to believe TTP’s ‘benevolent’ demands is the same as when you refused to believe George Bush Jr. when he said he was invading Iraq in the name of freedom and democracy. These are games of power and of course both states and anti-state actors use rhetoric. But there are degrees of ethical and political morality that allow us to draw lines.
What makes TTP abhorrent is its refusal to respect the law, its claims that TTP knows the only acceptable version of Islam, its use of shameless violence against innocents and anyone who disagrees with it.
Even as it has floated these demands, it continues to kill. The message in case we refuse these demands, because we see through the fraud, is clear too.
Here is something you should ask the TTP advocates now: if all the demands are reasonable, would TTP give up arms and run for office? Why not let the people of Pakistan choose who they want? But what is the cost if you do not want to vote for TTP or just not bow to their commands? The fact is that TTP, even if sounding reasonable to the crazies, is holding a gun to your head: side with them or be killed.
Let’s also examine some of the demands. TTP demands that everyone should be treated equally — rich or poor. There is a deep irony here. Equality before law is an element of the modern day notion of ‘rule of law’. It is laughable, and should make you seethe with anger, that in this case it comes from an organisation that kills, kidnaps and maims innocents and then has the audacity to speak of equality. If this still sounds good to you, you need to look beyond the rhetoric (as you do with all politicians and countries and focus on actions).
Here is what actions of TTP say: Everyone is not equal; what decides entitlement for equal treatment is your religion (non-Muslims can be killed), your sect (Shias and non-Sunni Muslims are infidels), your gender (women cannot work and must be flogged if they work, insist on an education or show any part of their skin). Even if you are a Sunni, you cannot go to a darbar/shrine. Forget about devotion for Sufis and honouring their shrines. TTP will decide who stays alive and who gets killed. Your life depends on compliance with medieval notions of judging purity by facial hair.
Yes, you may be disillusioned with the speed of things in a representative democracy, but are you willing to trade it for a system where you are killed and flogged for not being ‘pure’ enough? With the system we have, we can change things. We can disagree and debate and even insult each other. None of that in TTP land. Forget about any TTP leader being questioned by Hamid Mir the way our politicians allow it.
There will be no disagreement since those disagreeing are killed.
Then there is the demand for Sharia to be enforced. It is important to remember that Sharia is an exercise dependent on human interpretation. Zia-ul-Haq, TTP, Khomenei, people we know socially and ancient Muslim rulers would all agree on the desirability of Sharia guiding actions — exercising some checks and balances, whether moral or legal. But what kind of Sharia? Being shot in the city square in the name of justice? Being flogged for showing your feet as a woman? Being told that you cannot educate your girl child? Being told that you cannot play music?
In the TTP’s world, women are targets of brutal oppression. Those wondering what is wrong with TTP’s version of Sharia are welcome to travel to areas held by TTP and submit to that way of life — just for one day. Even coming back might not be a free choice. TTP’s version of brutal interpretations of religion does not just tell you what to do — it dictates what you do and if you do not comply, you suffer in ways for all to see.
There is no greater insult to the constitution than the state of Pakistan according legitimacy to this outfit. As I wrote last week, this is going to be a long night and the authority of the state will slowly erode. The state of Pakistan will sound more and more like an imperfect fit for the population. This then is the existence we are stuck with. Best not to make long-term future plans here.
It is increasingly discomfiting to think that more and more people in this society are beginning to think of TTP as a legitimate force. This discourse must be countered. The notions of quick justice sound good until you or your relative is dragged out on the basis of a complaint and killed after a short trial.
An organisation that makes all its money from drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion cannot create any economy — let alone an Islamic one. And I am pretty sure even TTP charges interest on the ransom it demands or the extortion money it gets. I hear the rates are way up from 2012. Enough of the talk about how ‘interest’ and computing the time value of money has caused us to be in this mess.
But any discourse asking questions of religious extremists and their violence will become increasingly irrelevant in Pakistan from these days on. And irrelevance is what I have lived with till now — except that now it is coupled with an increasing insecurity about the kind of country I live in. Maybe if it had just broken up it would not have hurt this much. But seeing it rot before one’s eyes is particularly heartbreaking. I do not claim to know that I have any real answers about where we should be headed — but I do know where we should not be headed.
Slowly, in a sentence here or a glance there, the poison continues to seep in.
I suppose we are just biding our time till someone decides we are not Muslim enough or not pure enough.
Who could have imagined that life would come to this? And yet one can pretend everything is normal.